Friday, September 7, 2012

Air-service LOT to go on Ketchum ballot

Business owners, residents applaud decision

Express Staff Writer

Nina Jonas

Ketchum voters will join those in Hailey and Sun Valley in deciding this November whether a 1 percent increase in their city’s local-option tax to fund minimum-revenue guarantees for airlines serving Friedman Memorial Airport is the right move to bring more visitors to the valley.

The Ketchum City Council voted Tuesday to place the initiative on the city’s ballot. The council also voted to enter a joint powers agreement among Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley that will govern how the collected money would be spent.

“We would be crazy not to evolve like the world has evolved,” Mayor Randy Hall said. “We have got to take action. If we don’t take action, we only have ourselves to blame. This is a battle cry across the county.”

The council chambers were brimming with Ketchum business owners and residents during the discussion, many of whom spoke in favor of levying the 1 percent tax hike. No one spoke against the proposed levy.

“When Horizon Airlines reduced their service, our business stopped,” Ketchum Jeweler Barry Peterson said. “I can print it out—there is a direct correlation.”

Ketchum real estate agent John Sofro said, “I think unequivocally that anyone who takes this community’s economy seriously has to support this. We can’t wait. We absolutely can’t wait any longer.”

Sun Valley Board of Realtors President Jed Gray demonstrated his support by wearing an airline captain’s hat when he expressed his opinion.

“This is a community thing,” he said. “It’s not city, city, city. The whole community depends on this.”

Ketchum developer Jack Bariteau, who has been looking for investors to help fund a new luxury hotel in Ketchum, said, “I’ve finally gotten some traction on investment money for my hotel. [The potential investors] are looking at this initiative as a message from the community. Let’s send the right message.”

Hall seemed particularly pleased with the extensive public input.

“If we had this kind of participation at every one of our meetings, this community would be light years ahead,” Hall said.

Both votes were unanimous, though a moment of panic swept the council chambers when Councilwoman Nina Jonas proposed a small change to the ballot language that would broaden the city’s authority to spend the collected money.

Jonas suggested changing language authorizing expenditures for “busing due to flight diversions” to “airport-related ground service.”

“I just don’t want us to be pigeon-holed to flight-diversion busing,” said Jonas, referring to busing passengers from Twin Falls or Boise if a flight can’t land in Sun Valley.

She wanted the language to allow for a possible bus route from Boise in order to bus in more visitors. She said the city shouldn’t be limited to bringing in more visitors only by air.

“I just think [the language] should be more open, but I’m not going to vote no,” Jonas said.

Hall recommended against the change, saying the ballot language should be as simple as possible and consistent with the language approved for the ballots in Hailey and Sun Valley.

“What concerns me is it’ll give the opponents of this issue ammo to say, ‘Now they’re opening the door to allow buses to and from Boise,’ etc.,” Hall said. “This will open a whole new can of worms.”

For a moment, Councilman Baird Gourlay seemed tempted to agree with Jonas, but a comment from state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, caused him to stay the course.

Jaquet said the Sun Valley airport, not any other airport, is the nexus for the Attorney General’s opinion that the use of public funds to support airline minimum-revenue guarantees is legal in Idaho. Referring to the fact that the proposed tax increase would only be levied during a five-year trial period, Jaquet said, “I would suggest that that’s something you should look at down the road.”

Gourlay said he was “with” Jonas for “a while,” but Jacquet changed his mind.

The council’s vote to place the initiative on the ballot received enthusiastic applause by the public.

“The challenge is going to be the next phase of this—the campaign,” Hall said.

Brennan Rego:

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